Managing chronic pain can be difficult at first, as not all pain medications are suitable for every patient and it sometimes takes awhile to settle on one that actually does the job. Although most patients suffering from chronic pain tend to rely on traditional prescription pain killers, others find that some of the more unconventional drugs such as marijuana, seem to provide them with even greater pain relief and fewer bothersome side effects.
However, smoking marijuana the traditional way also creates carcinogens (cancer-causing substances), which may go on to cause other health problems, down the road. It was for this reason that a synthetic version of the active ingredient in marijuana was created, that could be given to patients in pill-form.
Dronabinol is the synthetic equivalent of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which has so far proven effective at treating the nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, as well as loss of appetite in AIDS and anorexia nervosa sufferers. As researchers continue to study its effectiveness, there may soon be other conditions for which it is prescribed, such as severe back pain and fibromyalgia pain management. Medical marijuana prescriptions are already being written for these and other conditions, so it's only a matter of time before the medical community begins to take a closer look at dronabinol.
A recent study by researchers at Columbia University in New York showed that dronabinol was actually able to provide longer-lasting pain relief, than what could be obtained by smoking marijuana. Exactly 30 participants (15 male and 15 female) took part in the study, all of whom were regular marijuana smokers.
The participants were each given either marijuana to smoke, dronabinol or a placebo. They were then asked to take a “cold pressor test,” which involved immersing their hands into icy-cold water for up to two minutes.
The purpose of the study was to see how long it took each of the participants to report the sensation of pain, so they could compare the results of those who had actually smoked marijuana to those who had taken the dronabinol. Because the active ingredient in both the pill and the marijuana are essentially the same, the effects experienced by the participants were supposed to be very similar. The most notable difference is that the pill takes about 45 minutes to set in, while smoked marijuana normally takes only about 15 minutes.
As it turned out, both groups reported lower subjective ratings of pain, reduced sensitivity to pain and increased pain tolerance. However, there was one notable difference that caught these researchers off guard. The participants who had taken the dronabinol had experienced a longer-lasting decrease in pain sensitivity than those who had smoked the marijuana.
Although there have been previous studies on dronabinol's effectiveness, none of them actually demonstrated that the pill was in any way superior to smoking marijuana. The results of this study will undoubtedly encourage further research that might open up some more doors for this promising drug. Until then, there are many patients who are waiting for a way to get the benefits of THC, without the dangers associated with smoking it. An equally large number of doctors would like the confidence of knowing they're prescribing something that can be produced in varying strengths, making it somewhat safer for their patients to use.
Lewis Mann is a medical researcher that specializes in pain relief and treatments.